Doctoral student to play for NY audience


Seunghee Lee performs her Carnegie Hall Preview Recital in Memorial Hall Sunday night. Lee will make her New York Debut in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on December 1st. Photo by Scott Hannigan

by Ellen Masters

Seunghee Lee’s mother first noticed her daughter’s talent when she was 5.

“She said that I tried to find the melody and accompaniment parts by ear after hearing music from kindergarten,” Lee said. “I would sit on the piano bench, guess and then play it.”

All that “ear” work has paid off. Lee, now a piano performance doctoral candidate at UK, will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Dec. 1.

Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Lee, 32, moved to the U.S. in 2002. She earned her masters degree in piano performance from Ohio University.

“I think my musical talent is from my family,” Lee said. “My grandfather wrote plays. My sister is a composer and my aunt is a professor of voice.”

Lee said her parents and husband have most influenced her career.

“I loved to play my whole life, but I had a hard time because I was so busy studying general courses before college,” Lee said.  “Whenever I needed to balance between piano and studying, my parents encouraged me. They’re always ready to listen to what I’m feeling. My parents, especially my mom, have cried with me over the phone since I came to the U.S. because of homesickness, culture shock, language difficulties, study burdens and performing under pressure.”

Lee married another positive influence, Youngsub Oh, in 2007.

“My husband is doing part of my parents’ job, but more practical and physical: cooking, giving massages, recording concerts, making posters and advertising,” Lee said. “He lets me focus on piano during my doctoral studies.”

“Two teachers encouraged my talent, Dr. Eckes at Ohio University and Dr. Voro at UK. Dr. Eckes gave me the opportunity to study in the U.S. by offering the scholarship and encouraging me to prepare for competitions in the U.S. and Italy. She took me from South Korea to the global stage. Dr. Voro is a great teacher and excellent performer. Every lesson with her is a gift, a journey into a different world; exciting, inspiring, and endlessly creative,” she said.

Lee said her international debut was in 2003, when she was a winner of the International Concerto Competition at the Festival of Music in Laguna, Italy. She remains nonpulsed by her win.

“The fact that I won is not significant,” Lee said. “I was so interested, but had very little time to prepare. I applied and began to prepare, I had three weeks. I was passionate, on fire, crazy about learning a new piece.”

Some of Lee’s other accolades include the Outstanding Member Award and Graduate Achievement Award in Performance at Ohio University, and successes at the Ohio University Concerto Competition and the UK Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition.

“When I have competitions, I try to focus on playing,” Lee said. “I also imagine the stages, research the composer’s life, listen to recordings and practice endlessly. I devote myself to the music. I am more passionate about music than competition.”

Amy Papp, a dietetics junior and a friend of Lee, attributed Lee’s talent to effort and keen perception.

“Seunghee is very dedicated and hard-working,” Papp said. “She is also attentive and perceptive in her relationships with others, which manifests itself in her playing through the intimacy which she establishes with the music and her thorough knowledge of the technical and musical qualities of her pieces.”

Lee’s upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall marks an important moment in her musical career.

“It is absolutely honorable in my life,” Lee said. “I am really excited to play there and meet the New York audience.”